Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Robert Lowell and McLean Hospital: Waking In The Blue

Robert Lowell, the noted poet, was hospitalized at McLean Hospital on and off for many years. When I worked on Bowditch Hall at McLean Hospital in the early 80's there was a framed copy of his poem "Waking In The Blue" hanging on the wall in our Staff Room. "Waking in the Blue" recounts Lowell's time as a patient on Bowditch Hall in the late 50's and 60's. Some years after I became aware of Bowditch's history I sent a letter commenting on the poem, and the poem itself to the then Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky. He put my letter and the poem in the first edition of his anthology "America's Favorite Poems. " Here it is:

" This poem is significant to me because it takes place at McLean Hospital, where I've worked since 1982. I run a couple of poetry groups for psychiatric patients. Every patient that I talk to can relate to Lowell's line ' each of us holds a locked razor.' The poem captures the privileged milieu of Brahmin mental patients at a very elite hospital in the 1950's. I am stunned by the contrast of the present environment. The poem presents men in their most vulnerable condition, despite all the patrician posturing and trappings." ( Doug Holder) p. 179.

Waking in the Blue
by Robert Lowell
The night attendant, a B.U. sophomore,
rouses from the mare's-nest of his drowsy head
propped on The Meaning of Meaning.
He catwalks down our corridor.
Azure day
makes my agonized blue window bleaker.
Crows maunder on the petrified fairway.
Absence! My hearts grows tense
as though a harpoon were sparring for the kill.
(This is the house for the "mentally ill.")
What use is my sense of humour?
I grin at Stanley, now sunk in his sixties,
once a Harvard all-American fullback,
(if such were possible!)
still hoarding the build of a boy in his twenties,
as he soaks, a ramrod
with a muscle of a seal
in his long tub,
vaguely urinous from the Victorian plumbing.
A kingly granite profile in a crimson gold-cap,
worn all day, all night,
he thinks only of his figure,
of slimming on sherbert and ginger ale--
more cut off from words than a seal.
This is the way day breaks in Bowditch Hall at McLean's;
the hooded night lights bring out "Bobbie,"
Porcellian '29,
a replica of Louis XVI
without the wig--
redolent and roly-poly as a sperm whale,
as he swashbuckles about in his birthday suit
and horses at chairs.
These victorious figures of bravado ossified young.
In between the limits of day,
hours and hours go by under the crew haircuts
and slightly too little nonsensical bachelor twinkle
of the Roman Catholic attendants.
(There are no Mayflower
screwballs in the Catholic Church.)
After a hearty New England breakfast,
I weigh two hundred pounds
this morning. Cock of the walk,
I strut in my turtle-necked French sailor's jersey
before the metal shaving mirrors,
and see the shaky future grow familiar
in the pinched, indigenous faces
of these thoroughbred mental cases,
twice my age and half my weight.
We are all old-timers,
each of us holds a locked razor.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Yellow Pepper Press to release "Wrestling With My Father," in Fall of 2005.

A poetry collection dedicated to my late father Lawrence J. Holder. It deals with the ying and yang of our relationship, that was always informed with love.
My poetry collection "Wrestling With My Father" will be released by the Yellow Pepper Press of Pittsburgh, PA. this Fall. (2005) It is a collection dedicated to my late father Lawrence J. Holder.

In Doug Holder's New Collection, Wrestling With My Father in the Nude digs deep into familial roots, tracing history and blood lines with tenderness and truth. In lean verse, he head straight for difficult content, the clash of cultures, the silences between men, the silenced women, dreams and losses. He holds all these close, preserving what has past and seeing clearly what remains. Holder's metaphors rise so organically from the content... "the bridge to the Bronx/ a spurt of connective tissue/" or "Rows/of ancient Jewish mothers/ like angry crustaceans, perched on lawn chairs/... that they grab you viscerally, draw you in, shake you up, and set your down enriched and satisfied.Go get this book, take it home, savor CD Collins ( Winner of a Cambridge Poetry Award and member of the "St. Botolph Club" Foundation Board)

These keys open upon the tabernacles of memory where words as kisses act as resurrection and their poetry engages the forgotten smell of fathers and those lost worlds of words in which they live and still speak. Michael Basinski ( Curator of the Rare Books and Poetry collection at the University of Buffalo.)

----- Wrestling With My Father by Doug Holder. Hugh Fox reacts. I never cry at films, reading anything, “real” life doesn’t touch me....but reading Wrestling With My Father in the Nude, just a few pages into it, and it really got to me, tears in my eyes, deep emotions. He pushes all the real-world buttons here. Him and New York, the old Jews, old stores on old streets, meeting old pals, Marx Brothers movies, fedoras at rakish angles, ball parks, elevated tracks, hot dogs...he gets all the right, evocative, reality-evoking details, like his mother’s jaw cracking as she (now a widow) has dinner alone, his father’s photo on the refrigerator door “held tenuously/by a cheap magnet.” (“Portrait of My Mother During her Solitary Meal.”) We’re surrounded by all this wealth and run-over of reality, but what Holder has done here is to get the key details that resurrect it all, bring it all back. I felt I was living my own life all over again, and the night after I read Wrestling With My Father in the Nude I stretched out in bed and started thinking about dead friends, dead grandmothers, dead parents and all the streets and stores, the whole ambience of Chicago that somehow merged in my mind with Holder’s Bronx and came back to painfully haunt me: “Which man will know me/from my birth as a bald bawling baby to a balding middle aged man?....Who will make impossibly corny jokes/and impossibly dry Martinis/in front of a fire/on a long winter/Sunday afternoon? //Yes he is dead. And I will miss him./And I will remember/and mark/his passage,/because there will never/be someone quite/like him/who will cross/this stage again.” (“Which Man Will Know Me Now.”)Hugh Fox, 2005. ( Founding editor of the Pushcart Prize, and founding member of the Committee of Small Magazine Editors/Publishers)

With words carefully etched into the touchstone of a father’s love, Holder looks back to directly grasp, sans sentimentality, the struggle of men to be fathers and sons. In lines that are spare and piercing, like the thin rays of truth that linger long after the weighing of successes and failures in the lives of men, Holder evokes his father, resurrects him, not as whole phantasm but as whole human, alive in the bonds of trust generated by a son’s love. (Afaa M. Weaver is a professor of English Literature at Simmons College in Boston)
There is a universality in his verse and in the pervasive emotional tug of war that Holder threads
neatly throughout this collection; and ,ultimately, the bitter-sweet bonding that occurs when
we all finally discover our fathers. Kudos for this grand effort that makes us wish that we were the authors of these poems.

Harris Gardner/ Tapestry of Voices (Author : LEST THEY BECOME)

Douglas Holder's poetry is strongest when it is reminiscentof days gone by. In "Wrestling With My Father in TheNude", Holder, through the eyes of boyhood, pays homage tothe father of his past. Through the eyes of the present,he is able to look at mortality of father and son. His poetry covers the internal, external and if possible, the molecules of life of one man, while giving us the panorama of two.
Holder has struck a nerve and a chord in constructing a potent, forceful memorial to his

( Tim Gager- cofounder of the "Heaty City Review," and author of "Short Street.")

Sunday, August 14, 2005

This is an article I wrote a few years ago for the 30th Birthday of Stone Soup Poets in Boston.

Stone Soup Poetry's 30th Birthday By Doug Holder

These days a 30 year old woman or man is still, ( to use the vernacular), "wet behind the ears." However, if you are talking about a poetry venue, you have reached a ripe old age. At the end of April, in what T.S. Eliot called, " the cruelest month," Stone Soup Poetry celebrated three decades of open mike poetry readings and book publishing. The co- founder, Jack Powers ( and Peggy Durkee who was not in attendance), presided at the birthday party of this unique organization, held at the IMPROV ASYLUM, in the North End of Boston. Before the festivities began I spoke to Powers, and other long time friends and cronies, who have made the scene over the decades. Jack Powers, who currently runs Stone Soup Poetry in the basement of the MIDDLE EAST restaurant in Cambridge's Central Square, didn't mince words when he described the significance of the event. As always, he preached the gospel of nonconformity and the power of the "word." His nascent idea behind STONE SOUP was to challenge the ordinary, the status quo, and provide a venue where a person could confidently declare themselves a poet, and proudly pronounce to the mandarins, " I've got something else to say." BUDDHA, a local poet and organizer, of expansive verbal and physical presence, has been connected with STONE SOUP since 1975. He was a member of a folk music collective, and started playing at STONE SOUP in the 1970's. This bear of a man became emotional, as he described the seminal setting on Cambridge Street at the foot of Beacon Hill. He described a bohemian style store front, a mixture of a bookstore and gallery, filled with paintings, shelves of poetry books, and torn paperbacks, sold for a song. Evidently, the SOUP was a place to "hang." It held a constant parade of workshops, readings, discussions, and folk music performances. Buddha, misty eyed, remembered it as, " A real hang out, a genuine BEAT crowd." I asked Jack Powers what was the very first Stone Soup Poetry session was like. Powers told me the original Stone Soup was part of the BEACON HILL FREE SCHOOL, which he founded in 1970. The first setting was at a Cambridge St. store front. Jack lived on the floor above. The first reading consisted of a circle of 14 to 16 poets, of all backgrounds, be it race, gender, or economic status. Powers recalled, during the first years of STONE SOUP, " All these people came down to help and share. The poets... John Weiners ran workshops, Joe Dunn helped out, Carol Weston, so many people sharing, giving of themselves, it was beautiful." Over the years there have been many memories. I asked Powers the impossible question, " Which of them was the most memorable" The founder did not struggle with his reply. He spoke about the first visit from his literary mentor and founder of CITY LIGHTS Books in San Francisco, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Powers was highly influenced by the Ferlinghetti's collection, CONEY ISLAND OF THE MIND: " Imagine how I felt, when back in 1975, my hero is sleeping in my own place, and reading for the STONE SOUP POETS." Another thing close to this poet's heart was his sponsoring of the Mental Patients Liberation Front : " I just gave them a key to the place on Wednesday nights.. It was a support, and activist group. I freely gave to people who needed a voice." Like any Stone Soup event the birthday reading was peopled with an eclectic mix of poets. Powers lead off with two powerful pieces, one that unapologetically railed against the failings of God, the other bemoaning the fate of a homeless man of his acquaintance. Poet, Carol Weston read a number of beautifully executed poems that touched on the journey through the shoals of an often angst ridden existence. Ian Thal, the secretary for STONE SOUP POETRY, wore his trademark Joker's hat, and voiced a tribute to Jack Powers, by the poet Walter Howard. It heralded Jack as one of "...God's holy fools...his hands reach to the stars..." After JEWISH ADVOCATE reporter Susie Davidson piped in with a poignant piece, a father/daughter team consisting of 16 year old Kitty Glines and her dad added a wholesome familial touch. A STONE SOUP regular Joanna Nealon, proved that even though she is blind, she can see clearly. She dramatically read a hilarious piece, THE PLIGHT OF THE POET. A demure and cultured presence, she had the audiences in stitches of laughter as she put to good poetic use, a commonly used four letter word. Marc Widershien, an editor for the IBBETSON STREET PRESS and THE NEW RENAISSANCE, did justice to Power's poetry, with a skillful rendition of his work. The featured poet was John Weiners. Weiners, is an old friend of Power's and one of the original Boston Beat poets. Allen Ginsberg once referred to him as, "the most lyrical of the Beat poets." He goes way back to the Beacon Hill Free School days, and is firmly rooted with the history of this venue. Weiners is the author of many poetry books, most notably his signature collection, THE HOTEL WENTLEY POEMS. If central casting put out a call for a Beat poet, Weiners would fit the bill. He is a shambling man in his mid 60's, with requisite beard and a long ponytail. He leafed through the yellowing pages of his manuscript and came up with gems. One poem that brought tears to the eyes of an emotional Powers was "PREFACE FROM TRANSMUTATIONS" (1959). This poem celebrates the simple life in Boston in the 50's and early 60's. Weiners lamented, " Oh, for a room with the rent paid." He whispered to the audience about the joys of living on Arlington street in the Back Bay, and writing poems about the Boston Common, before the burdens of time and age took their pound of flesh. I asked Jack Powers what he sees in the future for STONE SOUP. He told me that money is always needed, and that eventually he will have to find a younger person to take over. Poet, Carol Weston summed up the past and hopefully the future of STONE SOUP, " STONE SOUP has saved many by releasing the voice within." Hopefully many more will be saved in years to come

Well the 2006 edition of the Poet's Market is out and Ibbetson Street is listed. In that listing books by Lo Galluccio, Jennifer Matthews, Joanna Nealon, Jack Powers, Deborah Priestly, Marc Goldfinger, Marc Widershien and Tim Gager are included. Our editors Lynne Sticklor, Robert k. Johnson, Dorian Brooks, Richard Wilhelm, Linda Conte and Dianne Robitaille are also on record. Poet's Market is carried at all major bookstores across the country, and purchased for major university libraries as well. That along with the International Dictionary of Little Magazines and Small Presses are essentials for your small press pursuits. Ibbetson is listed in both.
Doug Holder